Simon Sinek is an author and lecturer . . . he’s a favorite of ours and we refer to him often. He is a self-described idealist who “imagines a world in which the vast majority of people wake up every single morning inspired to go to work and return home at the end of the day fulfilled by the work that they do.” He goes on to say, “I believe this thing called ‘fulfillment’. . . the ability to say that I love my work, that I love what I do . . . is a basic human right, not a privilege.” Pretty radical stuff, huh? We’re supposed to make sure our people enjoy and are fulfilled by their work? The cynics among us would say, “Seriously? Ya know, Sy, there’s a reason they call it ‘work’.” Besides, why should we care if people are “inspired” by their work? Simple. People who are engaged in their work and in their company’s goals outperform their counterparts who are just putting in their time and collecting a paycheck. For more on this, please continue reading below.
“Give up trying to grow the bottom line. Grow your people and your people will grow the bottom line.” ~ Jim Sandstrom
Most CEOs and company owners, when asked about the importance of their people, will say that their people are of paramount importance. Yet, when asked to put their priorities in rank order, these same company leaders will often talk about growth, delivering shareholder value, taking care of customers, and then somewhere further down the list, they’ll talk about employees. Apparently, they have a different definition of “paramount” than we do. And it’s strange, don’t you think? How do we expect to achieve growth, create shareholder value, and take care of customers if not through the efforts of our employees?
The great irony is that, CEOs who actually do put their employees first and engage them in a meaningful way, out perform companies who consider themselves “performance-based.” Think about Southwest Airlines who unabashedly puts its employees ahead of customers, ahead of shareholders, and ahead of everything else. The theory, which Southwest has proved, is that if you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers, and happy customers will protect shareholder value.
Here’s another example of people-based companies vs. performance-based companies. General Electric, an icon of American industry, famously instituted a system that would eventually become known as “rank and yank.” Under this system, employees would be ranked according to their contribution to shareholder value. Each year, the top 10% would be promoted, the bottom 10% fired. In effect, it was a system that encouraged employees to compete, not with other companies in their marketplace, but with one another.
In 2008, GE needed (and was awarded) a $139 billion taxpayer bailout. Yep, that’s billion with a “B.” So much for pitting employees against one another as a way to drive performance.
Tony Hsieh, founder and CEO of online retailer Zappos, based his growth strategy on extraordinary customer service. However, he recognized that he couldn’t provide world-class customer service with a listless, apathetic workforce. So he invested heavily in hiring, training, and retaining the very best people he could find. As a result, he was able to achieve $1 billion in sales within his first 10 years in business. Nurturing a people-centric business paid off handsomely for him.
None of this is to say that performance is unimportant. Obviously, performance is critically important to any business, but the priority must be on people first. To get the level of performance you want, you need to first put capable people in place, and then create an engaging culture that will allow them to flourish.
The Gallup organization has conducted a vast amount of research on Employee Engagement spanning several decades. It has defined an “engaged” workforce as one that has an emotional attachment to the company, actively supports the company’s values and goals, and gives freely of its discretionary time and effort. Do you want a few clues as to whether or not your workforce is “engaged?” Here are two:
- How is your turnover? Is your workforce relatively stable or do you have a revolving door? If people are dissatisfied working for you, they’ll show their dissatisfaction with their feet.
- When you do have openings, can you count on referrals from your employees? If your employees are unhappy, they’re not going to invite a friend or a neighbor or another family member to join in their misery.
According to Gallup’s research, the hallmarks of an “engaged” workforce are:
- Low turnover
- Low absenteeism
- High productivity
- High profitability
- High quality
- Reduced safety issues
- High customer service
- Low shrinkage/theft
It seems to us that any one of those measures would be good reason to invest the time and energy to create an “engaged” workforce. But all of them combined? It’s a real no-brainer.
Simon Sinek says he’s an idealist for believing fulfillment/engagement in our work is a basic human right. Still, what’s wrong with a little idealism? We may never achieve “the vast majority of people” being fulfilled by their work, but if we strive for that ideal, what we do achieve would be game-changing.